Anyone from Springfield in Tallaght and its surrounds will appreciate this. The joy of the simple but satisfying ‘Pound Special’ from North Park. I don’t know what they put in that stuff but it sure was delicious. It is the inspiration for this piece of flash fiction.
Pushing open the heavy aluminium door, we are shrouded and enveloped in smells of star anise and onion. A deep, appreciative inhalation as we walk towards the counter that’s so high, we are only eyes and forehead above it. We hand over our pound coins, placing them onto the greasy counter that’s mottled with tatty menus and old, yellowed sellotape. Our stomachs growl in the anticipation and aroma of the curry sauce that wafts out of the hatch every time the surly counter girl opens it to pass an order in to the kitchen staff. We look at each other and smile. Most kids spend their pocket money on sweets. Not us. Every Friday, we walk to the chinese and spend our hard earned, household chore money on this local delicacy.
We watch anxiously as the hatch opens and that gloriously mundane paper bag is pushed through but our hope is dashed as the girl reads out a different order to ours and a portly man stands to retrieve his meal. We swap disappointed glances as our stomachs protest hungrily.
Then, it opens again.
“Two Pound Specials,” the girl calls in her deep, disaffected Dublin accent.
We smile to each other and taking the paper bag in hand, walk into the November night, hands frozen but soon warmed on the hot tin foil tub. We take them from the bag and let the fragrant steam assault our noses as we remove the lids. Eating from a plastic fork seems to improve the saltiness of the curry on our tongues, the chips like sponges, absorbing the rich sauce and the rice is light and slightly chewy. Each mouthful is like a flame from a log fire, heating our bellies from within against the bite of the winter air.
We walk slowly home, not speaking, just a satisfied grunt every now and again as we savour our weekly indulgence. A peak cap wearing reprobate walks by us and stops, regarding us suspiciously and we recoil a little.
“Gimme that curry,” he spits aggressively.
“You’re not getting my curry, but I’ll give ya all my smokes,” my friend says, meeting his eye contact, not backing down, holding the curry tightly to his chest with one hand, extracting the full packet of cigarettes from his pocket with the other. The youth favours this trade and goes along his way, lighting one of the cigarettes smugly as he goes.
My friend and I exchange glances, shrug and resume enjoying our hard earned treat.
My cat Bob, Bob Buttons to award him his full title, is a cat among cats. In fact, he’s more than a cat among cats – he’s a leader, a trend setter, a feline eminence. We were a week away from moving into our new, first home: all bare floors and magnolia walls. The first thing that would grace our house would be a cat. We met Bob who was a six week old bundle of orange fuzziness and knew we must have him. Being forced to take him a week early, meant he had to live in a pet carrier until our house was ready. In it, he was cosy with a mini litter tray (a takeaway box filled with litter), his food bowl and a cushion to sleep on: a kitten bento box. To this day, he can’t pass a pet carrier without getting in, lying down and claiming it as his own.
So we finally moved in. He had a sniff around, decided it was modest enough and laid down his hat. Should he have had the ability to speak, he would have said ‘yes, fine humans. This will do.’ We subsequently purchased him a bed: the kind that hooks onto the radiator and is made of sheep skin. Did we have a couch for ourselves? No. We had an inflatable children’s armchair and a deck chair. But Bob would look down at us from his heated height and yawn at us: his uncomfortably seated comrades.
He was a playful kitten. His party piece, to rear up on his back legs and ‘box’ with us or his very entertaining crab impression: arching his back, his fur standing on end, ears flat to his head and run sideways, thinking his tiny, fluffy self formidable and terrifying. His favourite thing was to jump into our car and head off for a visit to my parents. He’d lie across the back window, watching the cars behind us. His other transport method of choice was across my shoulders, sometimes on my head when he was small enough. Being a new estate, we didn’t know our neighbours but I’m pretty sure they thought I had hideous dress sense: this orange stripy fur hat that doubled as a scarf. Once they knew the truth of my living garment, their opinion changed from oddly dressed lady to crazy cat lady pretty quickly.
Some neighbours may not have been as fond of our marmalade moggy as we. He was often known to sneak into their houses and either rob things or repose on their beds. A lad living behind us, stopped us one day, asking if he was our cat. Dubiously, we muttered ‘yes’ and ‘why?’ As we cringed, he explained that oftentimes he’d come out of his shower to find Bob laid flat out on his bed, fast asleep. We uttered a hurried apology and ran inside, issuing a futile scolding to the impervious Bob.
Once retiring from burglary and breaking and entering, he turned over a new leaf and became a superb neighbourhood watch-man. During a particular incident on our street which made the headlines country wide, Bob could be seen on the six and nine o’clock bulletins, sitting on the victim’s wheely bin, scoping out the crime scene. Not one detective or police car got by without a thorough inspection of the chassis and sometimes roof. The street felt safer with Bob on the case, I’m sure of it.
So Bob was our baby for the better part of four years. A new cat, Molly joined us and while they are reasonably amicable, they could take or leave each other. Then real babies came along. On bringing our brand new baby daughter home for the first time, we of course worried about ‘the cat sleeping on the baby’s face.’ We needn’t have worried. Bob couldn’t have given less of a hoot if he’d tried. Things got real when the baby became mobile. Bob was now a moving target. But, being as laid back as ever, he accepted this fate and was often rewarded for the tail pulling with a rub, cuddle or playful headbutt. Eight years later and the two, along with our second daughter, are the best friends you could find. Adding a dog into the mix didn’t upset him either. Retaining his alpha status, the dog is put swiftly in his place with a nail studded swipe. He can regularly be seen following us half way to school. Once he gets as far as he has the bottle for, he’ll sit and wail until we fade out of view.
As he settles into his geriatric years, (he’s now twelve) he’s still got that spark of devilment in his eyes. But he is slowing down and prefers nothing more than the company of his ‘mammy’ at night by the fire. Not deterred by working on a laptop or any kind of device, he will firmly place himself between it and me and there will be no moving on him. He’s also decided that he’s too good for his litter tray, preferring to pee into the part of the garden wall where the cap stone is gone and the cavity block is exposed, leaving him a perfect little hole which he’s adapted to be his urinal.
Whether it’s a ginger cat thing, or whether he was just blessed with having bags of personality, there isn’t and could never be another like my cat Bob.
Cold cream tile
Channelling the last of the sun.
Candle glow swells
Forcing outwards, meeting the sunlight,
Mingling within its dying moments.
The body warms beneath it.
Tepid water laps and sways,
Healing as it goes.
The mind settled, body peaceful.
Lungs taste the sweetness
Of Lavender and Geranium
Then exhale calm fortitude.
Sitar music tickles the air,
Winding, dancing on the condensation.
Steam whirls and twists
Around the flame
As mind and body coalesce:
A rare occasion.
This half light beckons me,
Lightly touching me awake
With the gentlest of fingers,
Placating me with the promise of day.
The night was empty.
A vacuum of dark unfamiliarity
Where I floundered
And craved the morning.
Another customer walks into the video shop, looks at what’s playing on the shop TV and rolls his eyes.
“Every time I come in here, that tornado film is on,” he complains as I shrug with indifference and go back to stretching my chewing gum out and sucking it back in while I recite Bill Paxton’s lines along with him. Then later that afternoon, my boss arrives in and I get the same objection from him.
My fascination with extreme weather began long before Jan de Bont’s dramatic Hollywood-ification of a group of storm chasers, or indeed my first job as ‘video shop attendant’ (the fancy name for ‘works in video shop when not in college.’) I inhaled books and documentaries about tornadoes, hurricanes and storms. So rare are severe storms on this island of Ireland, so soothed is its climate by the Atlantic influence, that these phenomena are wondrous to me.
So, after writing my first novel (unpublished), a romantic story about finding your first love again and how it’s not what you thought it would be, I felt broody again. It’s the same as when you have your first baby, you adore them, stare at them all day etc, then one day, you realise that you want to do it all over again, give yourself over to another human being… or in this case, novel.
I tried to force some ideas, which after twenty thousand words or so, realised wasn’t working. So I decided to sit back, stop trying so hard and let inspiration come to me. And it did. While on a child free weekend away in beautiful West Cork, I was watching a storm roll in off the Atlantic. Like the nerd I am, I had my phone in front of me with the rainfall radar and the laptop with the sferic (lightning) detector on it. And like a bolt of lightning itself (groan), inspiration struck. I was going to write about storm chasers. When I announced this to my husband, he suggested that the main character should have a hook, a flaw if you will, something that made him stand out in the crowd of storm chasers. That’s when I came up with the character of Jonah. I wanted him to be broken, vulnerable but fighting against that vulnerability.
Sam is the main character and she too is broken. Being in her early thirties and having been widowed, she’s a little lost where her life and career are concerned. She realises that she and Jonah are more kindred than she’d thought: not only similar in their pasts, but also in their dependence on the pursuit of tornadoes. I wanted to form a kind of relationship between these two people, who are thrown together into a situation where they spend their time trapped in a truck, that reflects the tempestuousness of the storms they chase.
As soon as we got home from Cork, I started to write. And boy, did I write. After six weeks, I had seventy five thousand words written, was almost on the verge of divorce, and had forgotten the names of my children and pets. Anyone who has written a novel will tell you that you can’t write one in six weeks. And they’re right. You can’t. My first draft was awkward, disjointed and riddled with typos. But the story was there, the characters were developing. I took the monumental decision to send it to a professional editor. Think of it as finding a stranger on the internet, then giving them your first born child to look after for several weeks and then at the end, have them tell you that they were ugly and naughty. Ah no, that’s not entirely true. It wasn’t that bad. It just took a couple of storyline and character development tweaks as well as a LOT of typo corrections and we were on the right track.
The editing was arduous, the formatting was worse than giving birth and the stress and insomnia almost saw to the end of me, but thanks to the odd glass of Pinot Grigio, my wonderful husband (who did most of the formatting, but if anyone asks, it was me) and very tolerant children, I got through it. The day I received the cover from the graphic designer, I felt a flutter of first love in my stomach. The day I received the first proof from Createspace, I squealed, giggled and hugged it so hard, I almost turned it into a diamond. I brought it in the car with me, slept with it, gazed adoringly at it, stroked it. By the third proof, which I found several typos in, I wanted to burn it but that’s all behind me now.
And so, Eye of the Storm is now finished. I’m sad that in a way, my life is moving on: like my baby is gone off to college to find its own way in the world, so too is my book. I reminisce on how I fell in love with Jonah as I was writing about him, how I wished Sam was a real person who was with me in real life so I could help her through her difficulties. I remember how I would be shopping or driving and see something and think, “Jonah would love that,” or “Sam would probably like those shoes.” They became part of my family for the better part of a year and now I’ve to let them go. Will I write a sequel? Who knows? I’ve toyed with the idea, even written the beginnings of one. I have another book I want to put through the publishing process too so that will take some attention. But for now, I must stand on the pier, sniffle and wave with my tear sodden tissue as my baby sets sail into the world.
Click here to view Eye of the Storm.
A plume billows up from behind the mountain,
Swallowing blue, looming, mighty architecture.
Like a giant swarm, it’s poised to consume.
It grows and morphs, ready to attack.
Throwing birds out into the air,
They scatter and screech as they go,
A warning to take cover and brace
For something is coming.
The springtime buds shiver and shake
As the updraft pulls and pushes them
Sucking air into the beast
Making it stronger and more powerful.
The sun beams its last few rays
Before being overcome by grey
As a shelf of cloud rolls over the land
The herald of things to come.
All has silenced and darkened
A cold breeze blows excitedly
As the monster opens herself
And the deluge blankets all around.
The sky fractures, a crystal crack to the ground
Then a few seconds peace before the bang.
A clatter of hail, like pebbles falling
From a child’s palm.
The sun gains the upper hand once again,
Victoriously throwing out rays from behind.
Mocking the April storm, who retreats,
Like a scolded dog.
The rain pounded on the window like an angry drummer thrashing out a rhythm. The mottled grey sky, mirrored half heartedly in the slug grey Liffey, cast no light into the room nor the streets below where the splashes from each pedestrian’s footfall was a backing track to idling cars stuck in the riverside traffic. The wipers on each rain spattered windscreen swooshed back and forth, back and forth.
He hated Saturdays now. Somehow the endlessness of the day was further mocked by the busy street below: people rushing about, shopping, chatting, spending time as the day eased away from them. Such a stark contrast to his, being alone in this apartment that he had grown to hate over the past few months. He used to have days like the people below where he’d take her to lunch on Grafton Street, then stroll through the Green or shopping for her favourite thing: shoes.
He felt that familiar wedge in his stomach as he thought of her blue eyes, mirrored in the azure, spring sky, her long blonde hair falling into ringlets down her back, the way she smiled almost all the time.
His eye was drawn to the orange-yellow sunflower that was swaying in the breeze, the only thing of colour within his view, the only sun in his sky. He reminisced about the day she had planted the seed, the promise of sun that the little black, striated thing held: a world of colour soon to be admired hiding in that tiny little shell. She’d watered it, whispered something to it and smiled up at him.
That was the day before he’d come home to find a note from her mother. She didn’t love him anymore and was leaving. He ran to her room and what had been a haven of pink fabric and teddy bears was empty and grey. He’d read the letter again. It had gone on to say he’d be able to see his daughter once a month from now on, nothing more.
His gaze fell from the sunflower to the solicitor’s letter on the table below. He vowed that before that plant withered and died, he’d have his little daughter in his arms again, no matter how hard he had to fight.
As a fan of Tim Samaras and his team, I’m shocked and saddened to the core by their untimely and unfair deaths.
This poem is for them.
For Tim, Paul and Carl.
Today, skyward faces of intrepid chasers,
Are instead ground fixed and downturned.
Anemometers still, radars powered down,
Models neglected, ignored.
This brethren of hunters, these brothers of storms,
Mourn the loss of a father, a mentor.
Their everyday banter, emulous jibes
Are replaced by the silence of grief.
I ask of Mother Nature for a day of reprieve,
A moment’s peace for your fallen devotees.
Let the only rain be tears, no tempestuous games,
Give your soldiers of science time to heal.
To die in the field of battle,
Brings an honour that few can attain.
So rest easy, brave men of discovery,
Know your deaths will not let be in vain.
Every so often, a tragedy occurs that leaves me heart heavy and unable to comprehend. Sometimes it’s easier to feel through the pen (or rather, keyboard) than to try to make sense of it all. This poem is written about the Boston Marathon Bomb.
Run for glory, run for pride.
Run for your life.
Applause and cheers,
Sweat and smiles fall to silence,
Punctured only by
Screams and tears.
As people swarm,
Willing to attend,
A silent stream trickles
Between their legs.
Joining the river in the road.
The flags are still again.
Their colours marred
The sanguine stench
Fills the noses
Of the fallen.
If only the sun were
The universal god we worshipped,
Life would still remain beloved.
Praise among kindred,
The stain of hatred laundered,
The World pristine.
As someone who hadn’t a clue about Disney before we went, I found the advice of others very helpful. Here is my experience of Disney. It might be helpful, it might not but here goes.
Four a.m, the alarm clock went off. The sound was alien to me as I have kids – I don’t need an alarm clock. But this noise grated on my confused ears as I tried to open my reluctant eyes. Four a.m. Bleurgh. Best get up or we’ll miss our plane to Paris. We woke our sleepy daughters (aged four and six) and dressed them through bleary eyes. They were clueless as to where we were going. They knew we were going on holiday but didn’t know where exactly. We arrived at the airport and met my parents and sister who were coming with us. Sitting down to a breakfast that we were too tired to eat, we presented the girls with a letter from the Disney Princesses which said they were going to Disneyland Paris. My four year old looked at us and continued to stuff herself with Coco Pops, oblivious to our anticipation of her reaction. My six year old looked at us in disbelief at first and then quietly exclaimed “We’re going to Disney? Whoa!”
My rising panic about our impending flight was abated slightly not only by the Xanax I had taken, but also by the knowledge that a friend of the family who I’ve known all my life, was co-piloting our flight. He brought us up to see the cockpit which thrilled the girls. A driver from Ezyshuttle was waiting for us at arrivals and we bundled into the mini bus, Disney bound.
We stayed in the New York hotel and it didn’t disappoint. The large foyer, Manhattan-esque décor, welcomed us as did the friendly staff. We couldn’t check in until later in the day so we checked our bags in and walked out the other side of the foyer to be embraced and absorbed into the Disney Village. While not part of the park itself, it contains all of the restaurants and shops and is only a ten minute walk from both parks. Our first view was a large hot air balloon and a lake teaming with ducks and large fish (unnervingly large, especially having just seen a trailer for the movie “Piranha 3D”). We made our way through the village and our first stop was a sandwich bar which was tended by a gruff impatient woman who had little time for my Leaving Cert. French. We couldn’t pass our first Disney Store (of which there would be many, we would find out later). We treated the girls to a stuffed toy each and made our way to Disneyland Park.
Walking underneath the beautiful white washed Disneyland Hotel, we were assimilated into a magical town, with colourful shop fronts like something from the American mid-west in the 1800’s. Little miniature Buzz Lightyears and Disney Princesses were walking around, mouths open, shrieking and pointing in delight. I was glad I had brought the girls costumes so they could join in the dress up. As we were fairly exhausted, we didn’t do too much, just walked around in awe. In the distance, the brilliantly pink Disney Princess castle floats on the horizon, the focal point of the park, pointed turrets sparkling in the midday sun. When you first see it, you can’t help but gasp, no matter what age you are.
I had resigned myself to the fact that this was a holiday for the kids and I would probably not be too into the whole Disney thing but the place doesn’t allow that. You can’t help but be overwhelmed by the ‘Disney-ness’ of it all. When the music starts in the ‘town centre’ and the parade comes out with the characters singing and dancing on floats, I dare any sceptical adult not to dance or at least not to hum the tune along with them.
After a ridiculously expensive coffee in Starbucks back at the village, we made our way to the hotel to get our room keys and freshen up. Our room, overlooking the ice rink and lake, was lovely. Clean, modern and comfortable and very much nicer than I was expecting. There was no time for a snooze, however, as the kids were already stripped and looking for their swimming suits, itching for a long promised swim. The pool itself was deep but they provided plenty of safety equipment, arm bands, floaty belts and swimming boards.
Dinner that night was booked for the Manhattan restaurant in the hotel. We were taken aback on arrival to see the price of it. It was very expensive. The food was amazing however but in truth, we were too tired to enjoy it. It was lost on our four year old who fell fast asleep at the table, waking only for a mouthful of pizza, then falling back to sleep again. We admitted defeat, retired to our rooms and fell into bed.
Heading down to breakfast, we noticed Disney characters doing a meet and greet in the hotel foyer. We decided to eat first. The breakfast was amazing, continental food, fried breakfast, all kinds of everything. We stuffed ourselves and headed out to meet Chip and Dale, then Minnie Mouse. We hadn’t brought autograph books so bought some in the shop.
Then, we were park bound: ‘It’s a Small World and the ‘Mad Hatter Tea Cups’, both of which the girls loved. Then to Auberge de Cendrillon for lunch with the princesses. Suzy and Perla (mice from Cinderella, I think) met us at the table and chatted to the girls. Then, as soon as we were seated, Cinderella and Prince Charming arrived, dancing around, then went table to table to meet everyone, along with Snow White and Aurora who came around later. The girls were mesmerised and star struck by it all. While it is expensive and the food isn’t exactly amazing, the looks on the kid’s faces alone made it worthwhile.
We’d heard horror stories about queuing for hours for rides but the longest queue we encountered was for the train ride around the park, a forty five minute wait. I wouldn’t do it again as it was akin to being on the Sligo-Dublin commuter train: not much to see and stops four hundred times. However, it was a good way to get your bearings in the park if nothing else.
Back to the hotel to freshen up and then out for dinner in McDonalds. (Yuk!). We made our way to the roundabout on the Park (as recommended by the hotel concierge as the best viewing point) to watch the Disney Dreams show. At ten thirty, it was on late and I was worried the kids wouldn’t last, it being on three hours after their normal bedtime. I needn’t have worried. They were open eyed and open mouthed in amazement. The show focuses on the castle itself: fireworks, lasers and projections. But no description could do it justice. It was simply…… magical.
We asked the girls what they wanted to do that morning and the resounding response was to see the Eiffel Tower. So we boarded the train at the station located outside Disney village to Etoile and then hopped on a metro, neither of which was a pleasant experience but hey ho. I smelled Paris before we emerged out from the metro station: it smelled like bread, steel and the Seine. The first glimpse of the tower looming over us like an old friend was wonderful, the girls gasped at its size. The only Eiffel tower they knew of was the key ring on my car key and the hazy view they got of it out the plane window as we approached CDG. We found a quintessential Parisian café that served Sancerre and Croque Monsieur made with …..Pain de Poilane! As an avid fan of Ina Garten, I have in the past watched, mouth-watering, as she slices the Poilane sour dough loaf and serves it to her friends adorned with various toppings. My last trip to Paris, I dragged my poor unfortunate husband around trying to find the bakery, but failed. But here it was, on the menu of this unassuming little café. After savouring my last delicious mouthful, I asked the waiter where I might find the bakery that supplied the bread and much to my excitement, he told me it was only around the corner! Off we set to find it and suddenly, there it was, in all its glory, crusty loaves adorned with the famous P, lined the ‘fenetre’. While locals came in and ordered modest quarter loaves, I over exuberantly ordered two full loaves, not realising how big, or indeed, how heavy they were. Carrying them back to the hotel on a metro and train was no easy feat, but it didn’t matter. J’ai Pain the Poilane! So excited!
Back to the hotel and dinner was in the all you can eat American Diner. It, again, was pricey but it was all you can eat and wasn’t burgers and chips so happy days. Into the bar for a drink and then we were spent for the day.
We woke late, had breakfast and then went shopping for our last few hours in Disney. Bought a rake of souvenirs and useless hats that were destined to live out the rest of their days at the bottom of the wardrobe and went to meet our transfer to the airport. More shopping in CDG and then got onto the plane to go home.
To sum up Disney:
Magical, expensive, busy, fun, and magical some more.